To be the King, you have to understand the King. According to Baz Luhrmann, Austin Butler was elemental in crafting Elvis’ portrayal in Luhrmann’s glitzy, aptly titled Elvis film. The director says Butler even stopped him from filming one scene the actor thought was “corny.”
“The scene where Elvis has to inspire his new big band in Vegas to do this modern version of ‘That’s Alright (Mama)‘—this big concept in his mind,” Luhrmann tells Entertainment Weekly. “We rehearsed for three months to a playback tape that we had. But when I was shooting, Austin looked at me and was like, ‘This just is corny. This is not working. It’s fake.’”
After Butler expressed his frustration with the Vegas scene, Luhrmann had an idea. The director says he instructed the accompanying band to play the notes for the song incorrectly, pushing Butler to communicate with them as The King and get the song right.
“That’s the thing with Elvis: Elvis singing the lines, being the conductor, being the music. Elvis became the music,” Luhrmann explains. “That’s how he created. He was the music.”
Butler, who has studied music and voice since he was 13 years old, per EW, says he felt compelled to throw himself into the musical aspect of the performance and test his limits.
“’Music has always been a part of my life but always a very private thing,” Butler says. “It was just my own form of therapy. I knew that the singing aspect of [the role] was going to be something I really wanted to give everything I had to.”
Limits indeed were tested, and Butler’s fervent dedication to the role left him hospitalized after filming (and somehow still using the Elvis accent in press tours). However, given that Butler says he “created an archive” of all Elvis’ cadences and listened to recordings of himself-as-Elvis to fall asleep, maybe it’s fair that he’s still enjoying the fruits of his labor, mama.